by Lisa Greene on Thursday April 20, 2017
Transplant patients return to say thank you

Six months after his kidney transplant, Michael Haggard and his wife Bekki made the journey from Miami to Tampa just to say four words: “Thank you for everything.”

Shay Manning, who was one of Haggard’s nurses while he was a patient at Tampa General Hospital, was delighted to hear them. They talked about how well he had recovered, how his 12-year-old son’s football game is going and how her son’s doing in college.


Kidney transplant recipient Michael Haggard talks
Wednesday with Shay Manning, one of his nurses.

“It’s fantastic,” said a beaming Manning. “When you see them come back and they’re doing so well…You wouldn’t even know he has a different kidney. The whole thing was great.”

That’s the reaction Natalie Santiago Blackwell, a nurse and education specialist at Tampa General, was looking for. On Wednesday, Blackwell led a group of former transplant patients on “gratitude rounds” as part of the hospital’s celebration of National Donate Life Month. It was a surprise visit to see transplant and surgical nurses, technicians and other staff who had helped care for these patients.

“We always hear from staff, ‘We never see them doing well,’ “ Blackwell said.

Wednesday’s trip included boxes of candy and snacks as a sweet treat for staff. Blackwell has organized such visits before, but this was the first time patients came along as well.

Angela DiBlasi, who received a liver transplant in December, enjoyed the visit so much she put her photos on Twitter:

Haggard said just seeing Manning was worth the trip.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s emotional, but at the same time, I think it’s great for them to see their life’s work and what a profound difference they make. They saved everybody’s lives here, and that’s not an exaggeration.”

Photos by Daniel Wallace. Lead photo: Heart transplant recipient Marnita Johnson, right, talks with RN Barbara Keen about Johnson's heart transplant two years ago.